Considering the theology, the technology & the ethics of manufacturing babies…


On the theology, the technology, and the ethics of today’s reproductive technologies, few books can compare with Oliver O’Donovan’s Begotten or Made?  Even in 1984 he anticipated the current situation in parts of the assisted reproduction arena, where there is no way to “know what a parent is.” 

A few quotes from Chapter 1, “Medicine and the Liberal Revolution,” will introduce O’Donovan’s thinking on some of the issues raised in the previous post on “outsourcing pregnancy.”

We have to consider the position of … human ‘begetting’ in a culture which has been overwhelmed by ‘making’ – that is to say, in a technological culture. … It is not ‘technological’ because its instruments of making are extraordinarily sophisticated (though that is evidently the case), but because it thinks of everything is does as a form of instrumental making.

The fate of society which sees, wherever it looks, nothing but the products of the human will, is that it fails, when it does see some aspect of human activity which is not a matter of construction, to recognize the significance of what it sees and to think about it appropriately. This blindness in the realm of thought is the heart of what it is to be a technological culture.

Nevertheless, though thought comes first, there are implications in the realm of practice too. Such a society is incapable of acknowledging the inappropriateness of technological intervention in certain types of activity. When every activity is understood as making, then every situation into which we act is seen as raw material, waiting to have something made out of it. … This imperils not only, or even primarily, the ‘environment’ (as we patronizingly describe the world of things which are not human); it imperils what it is to be human, for it deprives human existence itself of certain spontaneities of being and doing, spontaneities which depend upon the reality of a world which we have not made or imagined, but which simply confronts us to evoke our love, fear, and worship.

Human life, then, becomes mechanized because we cannot comprehend what it means that some human activity is ‘natural’. Politics becomes controlled by media of mass communication, love by analytical or counseling techniques. And begetting children becomes subject to the medical and surgical interventions. …

From Oliver O’Donovan’s Begotten or Made?  Human Procreation and Medical Technique, pp. 1-3

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